June 20, 2019

A free program in Guelph called Strengthening Families is helping parents and children bond over a meal and activities.

The once-a-week program gets the entire family involved, rather than just focusing on the parents or only on the children. Families start each night out with a meal together before participating in activities that help teach more effective communication, problem-solving, anger management and more.  

“We know that if there is good communication between parents and children, there is less likelihood of risk-taking behaviours from those children,” said Jane Fawcett, recruitment and training coordinator for the program. “The aim initially was some research that was done . . . looking into why are some children, when there is a challenging situation with their family, more resilient than others. . . . That research found that those families that had good communication. The resilience in those children was improved.”

After that research was concluded, a program was put together to improve basic skills for the parents. But it also included the children “so it wasn’t something that parents are doing to children; it’s something that the family as a whole participated in,” said Fawcett. Just having that one day a week where the families could come together for a meal and some activities helped to foster those very valuable communication skills, Fawcett said.

“What I liked best about the program was having the kids learning the same material as the parents,” said one participant.

The program is completely funded and everything is free. They even offer transportation and child-care assistance for the families that need those services.

The program is targeted to at-risk families, but everyone is welcome.

There are two different forms of the program: Strengthening Families for the Future, offered by the Guelph Community Health Centre, for families with children aged 7-11 and takes place over 14 weeks, and the Strengthening Families for Parents and Youth, offered by the Canadian Mental Health Association, which is for families with teenagers and takes place over nine weeks.

Fawcett is currently looking for families interested in enrolling in the program for the fall.

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